An injured person seeking attorney representation often wants to know how much the lawyer thinks the case is worth. Based on the knowledge of the law on compensatory damages, previous jury verdicts, and prospective juror attitudes, experienced personal injury attorneys can generally give a broad range of value for particular types of cases. Since injuries, injured people, and facts are different in each case, however, a lawyer cannot usually predict with greater certainty how much a client may receive.
You might read or hear otherwise. Some research suggests that in smaller injury cases and cases such as workers compensation injuries, “settlement mill” law firms can estimate compensation accurately and achieve settlements quickly. But the potential cost of such an approach should be considered seriously. Some “insurance companies might be choosing to cooperate with settlement mills, in part because settlement mills appear willing to settle the largest claims—which present the highest chance of a catastrophic verdict—at an attractive discount. In addition, settlement mills and insurance companies share two sets of overlapping interests: speed and certainty. Insurers, it appears, cooperate with settlement mills, in even marginal cases, because cooperation is profitable.” Nora F. Engstrom, Run-of-the-Mill Justice, 22 Georgetown J. of Legal Ethics 1485, 1491 (2009).
Generally, the quick approach to injury case settlement does not serve seriously injured people. The specialized attorney should handle a smaller number of cases and look at each client’s injuries individually. Under Oregon law, putting a dollar value on compensation for those injuries requires adding up amounts in all of these categories:
- Reasonable and necessary charges for medical and hospital services
- Reasonable and necessary charges for nursing, rehabilitation, and other health care
- Loss of income
- Past and future impairment of earning capacity
- Reasonable and necessary expenses for substitute domestic services
- Loss of use and repair or replacement of damaged property
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Injury to reputation
- Loss of care, comfort, companionship, and society
- Loss of consortium
- Interference with normal and usual activities apart from employment
The amount of all of those harms is usually not something that can be known shortly after an injury. In my view, it is dangerous to try to settle a claim even for what seems like a fair amount until the full extent of harm is known. Injuries or their severity may not be apparent until the body has had time to try to repair and reconstruct. The injured person’s doctor should largely determine when the person’s need for medical treatment has ended, not his or her attorney and certainly not an insurance company for the source of the harm. A personal injury lawyer must keep a watchful eye on the applicable statute of limitations or time limit for filing any lawsuit that becomes necessary. But until that time limit approaches, injuries should be given proper medical care and rehabilitation should proceed normally. If there was an injury at the time of the harm that was not apparent, it will likely be found before any settlement is made and the responsible party released.
Injury attorney’s goal is to achieve maximum compensation for their clients. When the full extent of their harm is known, the chances of negotiating a full and fair settlement generally increase. And if a settlement cannot be reached, then the thorough understanding of the client’s condition gained by this approach is the knowledge that will be invaluable at trial.